“I am a Catalan. Today Catalania is a province of Spain. But before Catalonia was a nation and perhaps the greates nation in the world. I shall tell you why: Catalonia had the first Parliament, long before England did, and it was in Catalonia where there was a start of ‘United Nations’. All authorities of Catalonia met in the XI century at Toluges – today a French city, then belonging to Catalonia – to speak of peace: they invented the Truce of God.”
Pau Casals, United Nations General Assembly. October 24, 1971.
Who seeks who finds something, even if it’s only empty place. An old quarry on Montjuïc in this case. A beautiful location for a Greek theater, thought Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier when he stumbled across it somewhere in 1921. The French landscape architect was commissioned with the construction of gardens on Barcelona’s most famous mountain. The original reason was the Exposición de Industrias Eléctricas, a major exhibition devoted to the ‘wonders of electricity’. The event was originally planned for 1917, but eventually did not take place until 1929, as the World Exhibition of that year.
For the Teatre Grec, architect Ramon Reventós got his inspiration from the famous theater of Epidaurus theatre, even though the semicircle orchestra box was made according a Roman example.
Greek or Roman drama you could not see often there , but tragedy hit the Teatre de la Naturalesa (the name in the early years) enough. The Poble Espanyol and the Magic Fountains were far more popular than the theater on the Montjuïc, which was still unlighted in those years. The messy political and economic times did the rest: the Greek theater was mostly empty and quiet.
Also on 19 July 1936, the day that cellist and conductor Pau Casals and his orchestra should have performed a concert of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with his orchestra. The concert was intended as the prelude of the People’s Olympiad, the Catalan protest against the Olympic Games in Nazi Berlin. The evening before, however, the last rehearsal at the Palau de La Musica was interrupted by a courier with a message from the Catalan government. The music palace had to be evacuated immediately, due to the upcoming military coup. Casals read the message aloud an gave orchestra and choir members the choice: go away, or stay together and perform the last part of the symphony, as a way to say goodbye to each other, because maybe they would never play together again.
Ode an de Freude
Everybody stayed. In tears of anger and sorrow, Casals conducted the orchestra, while the chorus in sang in Catalan the words of Schillers Ode and Freude, ‘Alle Menschen werden Brüder’. Casals swore to perform the symphony when peace in Catalonia had returned.
Casals gave orchestra and choir members the choice: go away, or stay together and perform the last part of the symphony, as a way to say goodbye to each other
On 19 October 1938, the cellist gave a charity concert at the Liceu Theater in Barcelona, for the benefit of the Children’s Aid Society. The concert, to be heard on all radio channels in Republican Spain and later on the American radio, was Casals’ last performance on Catalan soil. In January 1939 he went in exile, first in France, later in Puerto Rico. There he died in 1973, 96 years old.
Seventy years later
Theaters Grec remained unused for a long time, although there were some performances between 1952 and 1969. The success only came in 1976, with the first edition of the Grec Festival, which made the theater an important cultural stage. One of the highlights took place on July 19, 2006. Under the title Setanta anys després (Seventy years later) the Israeli Yaron Traub directed the Jeunesses Musicales World Orchestra, plus the Coral Carmina and L’Orfeó Gracienc choirs – the latter the same choir as in 1936. They performed Beethovens Ninth Symphony. Alle Menschen werden Brüder.